Apr 042018
 
Jitenda as Uttiyo
Jitenda as Uttiyo

Jitenda as Uttiyo awaiting his execution, in our film version of Rabindranath Tagore’s Shyama (2009)

I was saddened to hear on Monday that Jitenda had passed away. I had last seen him in early March, while he was in Pearson Memorial Hospital in Santiniketan. He had been suffering from cancer but he was such an active person that I imagined that he would recover soon. He was 72.

I first started to learn Manipuri dance from Jitenda when I was a child. He had started to learn Manipuri dance from his father, K Kamini Singh, in Lokhipur, Assam. He came to Santiniketan in 1965 with a National Scholarship to study Manipuri dance from A Amubi Singh at Visva-Bharati University. Towards the end of Jitenda’s National Scholarship, Shanti Dev Ghosh invited him to teach dance at Patha Bhavan.

While I was at Patha Bhavan, my parents arranged for me to have private Manipuri dance classes from Jitenda. From the first day, I realised two things:

  1. how to teach children patiently; and
  2. the importance of being on time.

The lessons would start at 8am on Wednesday mornings, when school was closed. Not at 8.01am or even at 7.59am. He maintained that insistence on timeliness to the end: he had predicted some days earlier that he would pass away on Monday.

Jitenda was an all-round artiste. He had a uniquely subtle dance style. Often, we say that people have magic in their hands. Jitenda had magic in his feet. When he danced, it would look as if he was dancing on air and that he was weightless.

Jitenda became famous for performing as Kamdev (Modon) in Chitrangada and as Uttiyo in Shyama. He had mastered a way of syncopating the rhythm to complement the percussion with his feet. This was one of his special techniques.

Not only could he dance but he could also sing, make Manipuri dresses and stage decoration, as well as cook Manipuri and other dishes. He was always very particular about presentation.

I was very fortunate to have been able to learn these talents from him, including his showmanship. In parallel with learning Manipuri dance from Jitenda, through performing Tagore works on stage at various events under his guidance, he also taught me Tagore dance. He also taught me various folk dances and the songs with which they were performed.

Later, after I received my MMus in Manipuri dance, I was awarded the National Scholarship for Manipuri dance in 1994-1996 and Jitenda was my guide. When I started to work on my doctoral thesis on Tagore dance, Jitenda was again one of my supervisors. By this time, he had become a Professor of Dance at Visva-Bharati.

I accompanied Jitenda to various workshops, both in India and outside India. We performed Tagore’s Shyama, Chitrangada and Chandalika several times, as well as Bhanushingher Padabali, Basanta and Shaapmochon. We also performed Manipuri Ras and various Indian folk dances.

When we decided to make a film version of Shyama, we were fortunate that Jitenda agreed to be the dance director, as well as performing the role of Uttiyo. We filmed Shyama at the Gitanjali Hall near Santiniketan in January 2007. It was a memorable experience for all of us, although it proved to be the last time we would work together professionally. In the extended clip from Shyama below, we see the duet between Uttiyo and Shyama during which Uttiyo offers to be executed in the place of Bojroshen, with whom Shyama has fallen in love.

On a personal level, having known each other for over 40 years, Jitenda and I were almost like father and daughter. Of course, that meant that we also quarrelled occasionally! Sometimes, days would pass when we would not talk to each other. Then we would be back in touch again for the next rehearsal or performance.

I keep remembering how he taught me my first Manipuri dance steps as a child.

Aug 162012
 
Photo of Scandic Hotel Grand Place, Brussels

Scandic Hotel Grand Place, Brussels – photo courtesy of TripAdvisor

Whenever I have had to travel for a performance, someone else has taken care of the travel and accommodation arrangements for us. As a result, I have had a lot of experience of different standards of accommodation being provided. I also know how important it is for the peace of mind of the performers, and for a good performance, that these practical arrangements are carefully sorted out, ideally well in advance.

Today, I booked the accommodation for all four of our visiting singers and musicians for The Story of Gitanjali. I thought they should stay somewhere close to the Gold Hall. This would make the travel arrangements within Brussels much simpler and would also allow them to be within a short walk of the main places to visit while they are in Brussels.

I had thought that renting a large apartment for their visit would be easiest but then discovered that hardly any holiday rental apartments in central Brussels offer so many bedrooms or have more than 2 bathrooms. This didn’t seem like it would be a good idea.

So, to make things simpler for us and for our artists, I found a hotel within a short walk of both the Grand Place and the Gold Hall where each of them have their own room with attached bathroom. The hotel has been highly rated by people who have stayed there and, thanks to a special offer, is less expensive than renting a large apartment would have been.

Enrique in Galicia

We were pleased to hear that our friend and Chitrangada associate producer Enrique Nicanor will be coming to Brussels for the premiere. He has kindly agreed to stay with our artists to help them during their visit.

Judy, who loves all things Indian

Another friend, Judy Stowe, has kindly offered to help us, including joining us to meet the artists at the airport and dropping them back.

In the coming days, I’ll need to prepare a timetable for the weekend so that we and the artists know when and where they should be during their stay in Brussels.

Oct 012011
 

Kaberi dancing, age 7

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time
like dew on the tip of a leaf.

Rabindranath Tagore, 1915 (from The Gardener – poem 45)

When I was a child of 3, before I started to take dance lessons, my dancing was just an expression of happiness. I didn’t necessarily understand the meaning of the lyrics but I would dance to the rhythm of the music.

Gradually, as I grew older and developed my dancing skills, as well as my understanding of the lyrics, I started to express the meaning of the songs in my dancing. This was helped considerably by the compulsory dance classes at my school (Patha Bhavana, Santiniketan) from the age of 6.

Pure dance without expression is also possible. To distinguish it from expressionist dance, Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra gave it the name ‘nritto‘. According to this treatise, nritto was born much later than expressionist dance (nritya).

There are some forms of art which can stand alone, without containing any expression. These include designs (alpona), musical scales (taan) and dance steps (such as adavus in Bharatanatyam).

Apart from being mainly a poet, Tagore was also a musician. He had learned Indian classical music since childhood. However, he never liked pure classical music without expression.

So, when setting his words to music to create songs, he didn’t apply the pure classical ragas directly but adapted them in his own way to bring out the expression of his lyrics.

Similarly, in the case of dance, Tagore preferred expressionist dance to pure dance steps. In this case, perhaps he followed the same line of thinking as Bharat Muni. Bharat Muni put more emphasis on nritya than on nritto, probably because he wanted to use nritya as a medium for drama.

In novels, poetry and plays, the author’s main role is to express his or her thinking in the form of words. This type of art typically combines art and expression to form the message of the author.

Tagore had always enjoyed drama and plays. His main objective was to find ways of expressing his poetry better. Having first used music to achieve this, he felt that the medium of dance could be used to enhance the expression of his songs. His final artistic achievement, in the last decade of his life, was to combine the three dimensions of songs, drama and dance in his dance-dramas, Chandalika (1933), Chitrangada (1936) and Shyama (1939).

Sep 112011
 

Kaberi

Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not.
Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own.
Thou hast brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger.
I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter;
I forgot that there abides the old in the new, and that there also thou abidest.
Through birth and death, in this world or in others,
wherever thou leadest me it is thou, the same, the one companion of my endless life
who ever linkest my heart with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar.
When one knows thee, then alone there is none, then no door is shut.
Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose
the bliss of the touch of the One in the play of the many.

Rabindranath Tagore, 1911

That is exactly how I feel as I sit down to write my first ever blog post. It is only possible for a great poet like Rabindranath (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1913) to explain it in this way. It is amazing how Rabindranath managed to express the different feelings of human life.

Rabindranath has had a major influence on my life. Very often I look to his words to express my feelings.

I grew up in his home town of Santiniketan – “the abode of peace.” My grandfather Shibdas Roy joined the school set up by Rabindranath in Santiniketan. He was a very good singer and a musician. Thanks to his singing, he was one of Rabindranath’s favourite students. He became an honorary teacher at the China Bhavan, teaching English to Tibetan monks.

Later on, my father also joined Rabindranath’s school.

Years later still, it was my grandfather who took me along and enrolled me in Rabindranath’s school. I was lucky enough to grow up in such a wonderful, artistic and open air environment.

From time to time, I feel like sharing different things with those around me with similar interests. That’s why I decided to start this blog.

People often ask me about Tagore dance, Manipuri dance, our Tagore dance film trilogy, Indian cooking and my Indian dance workout. However, I don’t usually have the opportunity to give a complete answer. I hope my blog will provide at least more of the answer.

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